Our Lachesis Publishing BOOK OF THE WEEK is DRAGON’S TOUCH by J.M. Griffin and Kristina Paglio. Linty Dragon Series (Book 1)
Book restoration specialist Lynn Tegan Dragon, or Linty as her family has always called her, has inherited the revered Dragon Estate along with a priceless collection of dragon statues. But Linty’s legacy comes with a heavy burden. She must guard the dragons and make sure they always remain in the Dragon ancestral home in Scotland. She must uncover the truth behind her grandmother Essie’s mysterious death. And she must find the key that unlocks the magical powers of the dragons in her possession.
Linty can trust no one. Not her father, nor her relatives, and certainly not the darkly handsome and dangerous Cullen Vaughn, a dragon expert, who claims he wants to help her. Determined to protect the statues with her life, Linty searches for answers as she fights off nefarious collectors who will stop at nothing to get their hands on the dragons . . . including murder.
Welcome to our third and final feature on the Killion Group, a dynamic full service company that specializes in brand marketing for authors from idea to execution. Today we’re chatting with Kim Killion, the founder of The Killion Group and Hot Damn Designs and a successful romance author in her own right. Kim Killion is the dynamo behind The Killion Group and her vision has helped to build the company into the powerhouse it is today.
Out of high school, I studied near Kansas City, MO for my degrees. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts, a Certificate in Web Design, and I’m an Adobe Certified Expert (equivalent to a Masters in Adobe).
I have nearly 27 years of design and teaching experience. For several years after college, I worked in the design depts. of some major financial companies. After starting a family, I began teaching Graphic Design in St. Louis. I really loved (still love) teaching and did so for 13 yrs.
I began writing in 1998 and in 2005, I joined the St. Louis RWA ® Chapter. About 2009-ish, some of the women in the Chapter needed some design work done. Mostly websites, as the Indie movement hadn’t taken full-hold yet. But as I did more of that side-work/design, I found a terrible lack of historical stock images. With help from local authors, I borrowed enough historical clothing and props and hired a photographer –and held a 2 day, 16 hr, photoshoot! Hot Damn Designs and Hot Damn Stock were born.
By 2011, I was busier than I could imagine and decided to stop teaching and go full-time designing. I then hired a web tech, another designer (a student actually who was the top of the graduating class), and then hired Jenn to help keep us all organized.
We pride ourselves on knowing what it’s like to be “that” author because both Jenn and I were where they are! We know what it feels like and want to let clients know we’re there for them to help them make the best of their book from start to finish.
That includes everything from cover to uploading the book for them if they want.
We want authors to be able to write and we can do the rest – or authors can pick and choose what they’d like help with.
You also have an amazing stock photo site – called Hot Damn Stock – tell us about that.
How it started is mostly talked about above, but I’m still very proud to have one of the largest selections of romance / genre based images. We have close to 40,000 images, in 15 different genre. www.hotdamnstock.com
We try to have a shoot every 6-8 weeks, so we are always adding new faces and costumes.
We have a big 2 day shoot coming up the first part of November! Very exited!
Your client roster includes both authors and publishers – you have more than 2,000 clients – what canThe Killion Group do for an author or publisher that can really propel them forward and boost their careers?
The list of authors who came to use as writers who KNEW they had talent but were repeatedly turned away by Houses because their genre wasn’t “trending” is beyond lengthy. A good number (about 75% of them) are now Best Selling Authors. NY Times or USA Today Best Selling. And while I fully believe the talent these women have is awesome, I’d like to think that the professional cover design and knowledge of what sells a cover and why (the technical stuff), helped them achieve their ranking.
The covers have won several awards too, so that makes them and me feel very proud.
Okay let’s talk about price. We know the old saying: You have to spend money to make money – but a lot of authors are on a limited budget – what can you offer authors who may not have the big funds for a splashy campaign?
To start with, we haven’t raised our Cover Design prices in 5 yrs. We’re still at $135 for eCover and $75 more to add a spine/back cover.
In fact, we’ve just LOWERED our formatting prices AND increased the design elements of the formatting.
We still say, write a good book and get a professional cover. That’s your best campaign.
Aside from that, we offer some Social Media work (Facebook and Twitter – designs and marketing) as well as NetGalley spots for Reviews and/or Review campaigns.
We keep our prices low and only have a 1 hr min. for our PR work.
We also offer Blurb/ Back Cover Copy writing service. Because let’s be honest, those are hard and yet are one of the first things a potential reader will see.
You’re an indie author and you write medieval romance – tell us about your style and what your favourite Kim Killion book is?
Though I do love Her One Desire ( I wanted it titled The Executioner’s Daughter) and it was my RITA® book, Highland Dragon is still my favorite.
You began as a traditionally published author with Kensington Publishing – before you transitioned to indie – what advice would you give an author who was thinking of going indie?
LOL. Well, I say if you like having control of your work, then go for it! I wasn’t unhappy with Kensington and have designed for them, so we have a good relationship still to this day.
However, my Kensington covers were nothing like what they should have been… ie: the models weren’t right for the characters. And I think all Traditionally published authors have gone through that experience.
Indie gives the author complete control of your work. And the lion’s share of the profit.
And now that I am getting my rights back to my titles, I am giving them the covers (and the titles) that I wanted.
What are three things that you believe every newbie or struggling author should do to build readership?
*Learn your writing craft. Take classes, read how-to books and join a critique group.
*Get a good cover.
*And then, be ‘real’ with your readers. Be fun and don’t always talk about Buy My Book. I still think a “grass-roots” approach is the best. Get to know your readers. Become friends. If you realize they are people who love your writing as much as you do – not a nameless/faceless person with money – I think that’s how you build a loyal readership. They become your book family. J
Who are some of your favourite authors and why?
The wonderful Betrice Small was my favorite and first romance read. She opened a whole world to me …literally!
BONUS QUESTION: Finish this statement: Red heads are awesome because . . .
They are full of fire and unstoppable when they want something!
C.J. Redwine is the New York Times bestselling author of YA fantasy novels, including The Shadow Queen, The Wish Granter, and the Defiance trilogy. If the novel writing gig ever falls through, she’ll join the Avengers and wear a cape to work every day. Visit her website: www.cjredwine.com
Welcome C. J.!
You’re a YA fantasy author – tell us how you became a writer and how you first got published.
I’ve been writing stories since I was in the second grade. By the time I was a teenager, I was filling spiral notebooks with stories, ideas, poems, and even lists of words that I loved. Book Nerd FTW!
I graduated from college with a degree in English and my teaching credential. Even though I loved to write and wanted to be published one day, I had no real idea how to accomplish that, and I needed a career that paid the bills. I taught high school for a few years, got married, had children, and life became one non-stop loop of no-sleep-keep-the-boys-from-starting-the-apocalypse-I-don’t-know-how-to-brain-anymore. It wasn’t until I was thirty and facing a cancer diagnosis that I stopped and evaluated what I was doing. I realized that I’d been waiting for life to slow down and give me the perfect opportunity to write books, but that’s not what life does. If you want something, you have to make it happen or move on to another dream.
So I wrote my first novel, which is a monstrosity that no one will ever read. I joined writer’s groups. Went to conferences. And learned as much as I could about the craft of writing and about the publishing process. I wrote a second book, queried literary agents, and signed with my amazing agent. I expected that book would sell, but it didn’t. I wrote another book, and that book didn’t sell either. I’d been with my agent for over two years without a sale, while others sold in a matter of weeks. I kept picking my self-confidence up off the ground, dusting it off, and telling myself that I could do this.
When I wrote my next book, I turned it in to my agent, fully expecting to hear a slew of “no’s” once it went on submission to editors. Instead, my agent called me to tell me the book was going to auction with four houses bidding on it. I just cried. It was so surreal. It took months for the fact that I’d sold a series to sink in!
You’re a NYT bestselling author – tell us which book hit the bestseller list first, what number did you hit, and what did you do to celebrate?
My book THE SHADOW QUEEN, which is a dark epic fantasy inspired by the Snow White fairy tale, hit the list at #5. I went out to dinner with my family to celebrate. 🙂
I know that you’re published with Balzer and Bray (a Harper Collins imprint) but you’ve also written a book and indie-published it – called Query: Everything You Need To Get Started, Get Noticed, and Get Signed. Tell us about that and why you wanted to write a book about how to break into the industry?
I’ve been teaching writing workshops for years. I love to teach! And I realized there were a lot of up and coming writers who’d never be able to attend one of my workshops. So I decided to put my query workshop into book form so that anyone who needed a step by step process for how to write a query letter that gets results would have it at their fingertips.
You also offer writing workshops and you organize an annual writer’s retreat tell us about that and is it just for YA authors or do you offer it for authors who write in other genres?
The annual retreat is open to any writers who register. We’re currently accepting names on a wait list for next year’s retreat C. J. REDWINE’S WRITER’S SANCTUARY WRITING RETREAT). It’s a fabulous event full of workshops, critiques, time to write, and delicious home cooked food. I also travel to conferences, book festivals, writer’s events, and libraries to give workshops.
You’re a busy mom – what do your kids think of their mom the author? What do you enjoy reading to your kids?
My boys are teens, and they think it’s cool that I’m a writer. Sometimes they even read my books (and then complain about how awkward it is to read a kissing scene written by your mom). My girls are in first grade and preschool, so they don’t really understand what it means to be published. But they do know that I write books, and they love to fold paper together and make their own books. 🙂
It’s very competitive out there with traditionally published authors and indie authors and authors who do both! Writing a good book is of course important – but aside from that – how can a newbie or emerging author find their own place in a sea of so many successful authors?
It’s important to figure out where your readers are and connect with them. One great way to connect is to make sure that your social media presence revolves around passions of yours that are also passions of readers who’d love your books. For example, I write fantasy. I love Grimm, Supernatural, The Flash, The Avengers etc, and I talk about those things. I’m part of the Harry Potter fandom. Of course I share other aspects of my life too, but I make sure to share the things that I know are shorthand for readers who love the same things I do. I also think networking with other authors and doing shared events or book festivals is a great way to meet new readers!
What do you have coming up next?
My next book is THE WISH GRANTER, a dark epic fantasy inspired by the tale of Rumpelstiltskin in which a bastard princess must take on a dangerous fae to save her brother without losing both her brother and her soul.
What do you love to read in your downtime?
Everything! I read widely. My favorite genres at the moment are thrillers, horror, and contemporary, and of course I always adore a great fantasy. I find so much inspiration in reading outside of my genre.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Literally everywhere. I’m constantly seeing interesting things that make me ask “What if …?” or I hear a piece of music that sparks a conversation between characters or an image of a world … I carry a notebook at all times because my head is a very busy place.
Bonus Question: Who do you fangirl over and why?
I love character actors! My faves are Benedict Cumberbatch, John Noble, Tom Hiddleston, Johnny Depp, and Bill Nighy. Also I fangirl over fictional characters like nobody’s business. Batman. Loki. Iron Man. Wonder Woman. Dean Winchester. I could go on, but you get the point.
Phaedra Michaels is a small town psychologist who is beginning to lose hope. Two of her patients at the local hospital in Dismal, Alabama have just killed themselves, she’s still reeling from her divorce and what turned out to be a disastrous marriage, and her father has died, leaving her without any notion of who her real mother is.
Just as Phaedra decides to commit herself to a serious drinking problem and an eating disorder, or two, a mysterious spell book arrives in the mail. Feeling desperate, Phaedra uses it to cast spells to save her fading patients. Suddenly, good things start happening. Phaedra’s patients begin to get better and she even starts dating the sexy doctor from the hospital.
Phaedra is so happy she doesn’t notice the small things that start to go wrong in Dismal, or the dark creatures slithering out of the shadows near her house. When Phaedra finally realizes her spells have attracted every card-carrying demon from hell, she has no choice but to accept help from a slightly nerdy, 500 year-old warlock with a penchant for wearing super hero T-shirts and a knack for getting under Phaedra’s skin. Now, if only she could get the hang of this witch thing, she might be able to save her town.
I carefully pulled the twine and the brown paper fell off. Beneath the paper was a large, leather bound book. It looked like an old journal or recipe book. It was tied together with a red ribbon and the ribbon held numerous pieces of paper. I ran my hands over the smooth leather and read the title of the book. It simply said Spells.
I laughed and pulled the red ribbon that held the book together. The book fell open. Inside, it was like a recipe book a mother would pass on to a daughter. There were old typed pages with handwritten notes in the margins. There were pages added with handwritten spells on them and drawings.
“What the hell?” I said as I leafed through the old book. There were potions and summoning spells and candle spells. In-between pages, there were pressed flowers and herbs and some of the pages were stained with old candle wax.
I set the book down and went into the kitchen and opened the fridge. At least the kitchen was done. It looked like any other modern kitchen. It had granite counter tops and marble floors. I’d spared no expense making it look like something that belonged in an old southern mansion. I wanted the house to be perfect and I had Johnny Boy’s money to help me achieve that dream. The lights flickered when I entered. I would have to talk to Lawson about that in the morning. I took a beer out of the fridge and opened it. I had a sip and grabbed a roll of cookie dough. Armed with the cookie dough and beer, I returned to the book. It had fallen off the counter, to the floor, and was opened to a page. I laughed again. The page it had opened to was love spells. That was just what I needed.
I sat down and ate and drank and leafed through the book. I stopped at a page with an interesting picture on it. The spell was an awakening spell. It awakened you to the supernatural world. I hesitated and looked at the script around it.
Something fell upstairs and the lights went out. I fumbled around and found the nearest flashlight and switched it on just as the lights flickered back on.
“Lawson, you asshole,” I said as I turned the flashlight off. “The wiring is done in the parlor, my ass.”
A sudden wave of fatigue washed over me and I picked up my mess and carted my sorry butt upstairs. I climbed into bed with my flashlight. I still had the book of spells. It had been so long since someone had given me something that I had forgotten what it felt like. I knew the book was more than weird. It bordered on creepy. A normal woman would probably burn the damn thing, but I wasn’t a normal woman. I was a lonely divorcée living in a house known to be haunted, but I loved it the way most people love their pets. I was the daughter of a man who had made it clear that he loathed me, with a step-mother who’d bought me toilet paper for Christmas. The creepy book was wonderful to me. It meant that someone out there, even if they were a freak, cared about me, and freak love was better than no love at all.
Welcome to our second feature on the Killion Group, a dynamic full service company that specializes in brand marketing for authors from idea to execution. Today we’re chatting with Jennifer Jakes, one of the key point people at Killion who works one-on-one with authors on their books and on the marketing.
LP: Welcome Jennifer!
LP: You’re known as the Wench Whisperer at the Killion Group – a very unique sounding title – what does it mean?
JJ: Hi! Thank you for hosting us today J Well, when The Killion Group first started, we were Hot Damn Designs. And since Kim wrote Medieval Romance, we based everything on that premise. Kim as the Queen, our Web Tech was the Royal Scribe, so it fell into place that since I was the “contact” person for Killion, I became the wench whisperer. Needless to say we had / still have a LOT of first time Indie Authors. ((The company started in 2010, when Indie was new.)) Because we had a lot of first time authors, some of them were nervous about taking the Indie step. So like a horse whisperer calms nervous horses, I calmed first time authors and walked them step by step through the publishing process. Start to finish.
Since we’ve grown, I am still the main contact person for Killion, but I’ve also assumed the Formatter position. I format all the eBooks and Print books for authors, and I upload for them if they need us to. I also am the person who writes the Blurbs/ Back Cover Copy if authors need that service. It’s something I love doing. Since I don’t have time to write anymore, it’s a way I get to keep in touch with my writer’s creative side.
LP: Tell us about the photo shoot process at The Killion Group – from research to the actual shoots to the final images . . . what are the steps involved?
JJ: Well, if you haven’t seen our RWA ™ conference workshop of WHAT REALLY HAPPENS AT A ROMANCE NOVEL PHOTOSHOOT…?, it’s an hour of us showing you what we do from start to finish. Once we decide it’s time to shoot again, it involves me contacting the modeling agency, booking flights and hotels for the models, and all the details like that. Then Kim and I plan a day at the costume rental store (ie: the IKEA™ of costumes!!) where we have to force ourselves to not get carried away. That is difficult because there are so many beautiful costumes!! It can take several hours in the store, putting together costumes based on the sizes of our models and what genres we intend to shoot.
Then the next day, we show up at the studio about 2 hours before the models to set up everything from lights to costumes and props to making sure we have enough cold water and snacks / protein snacks for the models. Once the models start showing up, I begin on the hair and makeup on the female models while the male models start shooting “alone” shots with Kim (she’s our Queen and our photographer). Once the girl(s) are ready, we go onto set and I help Kim by getting the models into place for the shots with the couples.
We normally shoot for about 8 hrs…which turns into a 10-11 hr day for Kim and me. Once we stop shooting, we clean up the studio, pack all the costumes and props and call it a day.
LP: You’re also the hair and make-up/stylist on set – was that something you studied or something you learned on the job because you love it?
JJ: I went to Cosmetology School…so yes, I did study it. I don’t have my License anymore, but I do still love it! 🙂 And it sure comes in handy on the shoots!
LP: Anything outrageous ever happen on a photo shoot?
JJ: LOL… aside from a few wardrobe fails, not really. It’s very surreal because literally we introduce 2 people to each other, and then 5 minutes later they have to pretend to be madly in love. Several of our female models have only ever done fashion/runway modeling, so they are nervous about up close ‘n personal with a handsome, sexy man draped all over them.
We try to keep things light and crack jokes because it can be stressful for the models…and stress will show immediately in a shot.
The lights make it hot on set and the floor is concrete so we’re really trying to get the shot and not make the models stand or kneel or pose uncomfortably for very long. And we’re moving through sets or genres quickly. So I really get my workout on shoot day, helping the girls in and out of corsets or gowns, hanging up costumes, getting props, etc. And I’m the “wind” in any shots we need that… I’m usually on the floor (out of camera view) with a box fan. LOL
LP: Does Cupid ever strike between the cover models?
JJ: LOL…Not really, no. However, Kim and I can tell if a couple find each other attractive or not. There is a spark that’s naturally there…a chemistry that you can’t fake. Those are the best shots. And frankly, we’ve brought in actual real life model couples so we have that spark and heat already there. Husband/wives or boyfriend/girlfriends. Those are always good shots.
LP: You’re also a romance author – and you write historical romance – what do you love about historical romance?
JJ: I love the fact that when I read historicals, I get lost in another era. I think it’s the best kind of “break” from reality.
LP: You’re an indie author but do you design your own covers or does the Killion Group design them?
JJ: Oh no! I’m not a designer!! LOL Kim has done all of my covers.
LP: Why do you think it’s important for indie authors to work with a company like the Killion Group when it comes to their book covers and marketing their books?
JJ: I think that despite the fact we say don’t judge a book by its cover, we ALL do. I do. And if you are going to compete with the thousands and thousands of other titles out there, you better start out with your best! And to me, that means a professional cover. It also means you feel your work is worthy of a professional cover. Just because you might have Canva or Photoshop on your computer (or your cousin’s daughter does) does NOT mean your cover will look professional. It takes the skill of someone who has trained in graphic design to produce a comptetitive cover. And we all know the competition is fierce for authors!
LP: What do you love best about working for The Killion Group?
JJ: Oh gosh…. There’s a lot! First, I can work in my PJs if I wanted to. LOL But really it’s been fun meeting some of my favorite authors and getting to work with them. It’s given me a chance to be creative on different levels too – besides just writing. I’m a visual person anyway, so working on the photoshoots gives me a chance to use my creative eye. I normally stand beside or behind Kim while she’s shooting so that we have 2 sets of eyes on the models to see anything that might not look right.
LP: Who are some of your favourite authors and why?
BONUS QUESTION: You are a self-described “chronic insomniac”. Tell us about some of your night time adventures?
Well…. really, that was more when my kids were small. LOL I think I got into mom-mode of listening for a “cry”. Now I sleep really well.
How about if I tell you of my man-chest oiler days… ?? That’s what we call the person who gets to oil the bare chests of the male models before the shirtless shots. Unless no one wants to read about that…..??? Anyone, anyone??
OK. So we used to manually oil the men’s chests. By that I mean it was either olive oil or baby oil rubbed on. Kim told me I could oil the chests at one shoot since it was my birthday. LOL ((And I must have done a really good job because I continued to hold that job. And it had nothing to do with the evil eye I gave anyone who tried to take my job…nothing at all. ))
But there was a problem. All that oil tended to smear on the costumes…really on everything. So we learned from someone if you use spray PAM™ (the kitchen pan spray) it worked great and wasn’t as greasy. So we do that now.
I like to tell the guys they smell like oregano. Haha
Just so you know my job isn’t all glamour, I will tell you a story about the male model who came in with a hairy back and said he needed help shaving it. I assumed he meant with an electric trimmer… Um, no. Deposable razor and shaving cream. It. Was. Not. Fun. :/
Everyday people and situations provide fodder for Maeve Christopher’s imagination. Keep asking “what if” and “why”, and the plot thickens. What could be more fun?
She currently lives in Massachusetts with a number of messy subplots and Freddie the tiger cat.
Maeve Christopher’s Redemption Series is part family saga, part suspense and part love story — with the touch of the Supernatural.
My journal came out of its hiding place at the back of my desk drawer almost every day of my childhood. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t write little stories, or make up stories about people I encountered in life. I almost never shared them.
There’s a big difference between being a writer and taking that step to becoming a published author. I think for most of us, writing is as natural as breathing. We can’t not write. For many people, stories stay in their journals or in their heads. I was always convinced that would be the case for me. I pursued science studies and a career in health care.
One day a new patient showed up in my office. Under “occupation” he listed “editor” for a prominent New York publisher. I still remember how excited I became (even more than the time I met Phil Collins!) I asked him to tell me all about his job, then went on and on about how much fun, how exciting being an editor must be, how thrilling to work with authors, etc. etc.
When I took a moment to breathe, he asked, “Do you want to write a book?”
I was stunned silent, then burst into nervous laughter. My mind said, “Of course I do! Doesn’t everyone?” But I quickly said something like, “That’ll be the day.” Funny, but that moment was a turning point for me. I began to think it could be possible.
It was years later when I finally gave myself permission to write with the intention to publish. Unfortunately, by that time the editor had long since retired and relocated. And when my 800 word saga was complete, it had everyone’s point of view, including the dog. When I gave it to a dear friend to read, she kindly said, “You might have something here.”
Many years and revisions later that effort became the basis of the first three books of The Redemption Series. I’m so grateful when I think about that editor who asked the question that started me on this writing journey. Now I can’t wait to share my stories!
Maeve Christopher is the author of the upcoming Lachesis Publishing release A RING AND A PRAYER Book 1 of the Golden Bowl Series, an inspirational women’s fiction novel with romantic elements, plenty of laughs, action and twist and turns. Stay tuned for more details!
Jersey “The Brawler” Romero is dying. Slowly. Tediously. Not the way he thought he would go out on the savage streets of Glory, the Twilight City. But all of that is about to change when Jersey is granted his youth again by a messenger of the Twilight Goddess, the Spirit of Glory. He’s also given a mission: save Glory from the dark forces that are bent on destroying her.
Jersey’s been a fighter his whole life, whether it was on the streets where he struggled to survive, or in prison where he fought to stay alive. Glory never gave him anything without a battle, and that’s what he’s always loved about his beloved city. But nothing has prepared him for the war that’s coming. Monster-like creatures masked as humans are bent on exterminating him. Their leader is a mysterious man named Templar. He’s been amassing an underground army called The Black Crux. Templar wants to make Glory his, by laying waste to everyone who stands in his way. Possessing an almost otherworldly vision, Templar knows everything about Jersey, including an explosive secret that will blast away everything Jersey has ever believed.
But Jersey isn’t called “The Brawler” for nothing. He’s determined to fight Templar with everything he’s got. Because he’s not just fighting for his life, he’s fighting for Glory’s very soul.
We’re standing on the roof of Skript and Abigail hasn’t said a word in five minutes. She dragged me up here with such urgency, I figured the show would have started by now.
Sitting down in a damp lawn chair, I wait. Patience and I have nothing to say to each other, but Abigail has me intrigued so I let her have all the time she needs. It’s not easy opening up doors that have been locked for so long, especially to strangers. If that’s what we still were. Maybe strange acquaintance is a better term.
The view from the rooftop is actually quite beautiful. Rarely can the word beauty describe Glory. What little good happens to someone here, happens at the expense of someone else’s pain. Surprisingly, the night is peaceful. It’s never peaceful in Glory, so there’s obviously something off, but I don’t have the time nor the inclination to worry about it at the moment. It’s just the cone of silence. The calm before the storm. Strangely, I’m the calm. Abigail is the surging storm.
My eyes fall from the billions of firefly buildings to a sight more pleasing. Abigail stands looking up at the moon. It’s a waxing half-moon, but there’s still enough light for decent visibility. I watch her take off her leather jacket and pull off the gloves and drop them at her feet. Before my eyes, strange symbols begin to appear on her forearms and hands. The spaghetti strap top she’s wearing leaves much of her neck visible where more symbols begin to shimmer. Spiral patterns. They resemble some sort of tribal ink, but they begin to glow like lanterns in the dark. It’s an eerie, beautiful blue light. Cerulean, turquoise, and sapphire.
I stand up and move closer as Abigail turns around. I can see her face now. The incandescent markings have spiraled up her cheeks, climbing like staircases up to her eyes. Both her eyes shimmer inhumanly, one golden amber, the other a pool of twinkling emerald. Her breathing is erratic, she shakes, like she’s frightened I’m going to run away or grimace at the sight of her.
“Th-this . . . is me.” She stutters. “What . . . what I was talking about.”
Before I know it, she’s reaching for her jacket to cover herself. I spring forward and stop her, grasping her firmly by the shoulders. She looks up at me like she’s a monster that should be cowering in darkness. She won’t look at me. I can’t help but wonder who ever looked at her and cringed. Who made her feel so malformed? It’s perfectly clear to me she’s not the abomination she considers herself to be. She’s the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen. It’s not every day a street devil like me gets to behold a shimmering angel.
I move my hands to her cheeks, rubbing my thumbs over the glittering markings. There’s no textural difference. Her skin is as soft as cashmere. Her radiance is overwhelming. Her glow envelops me.
For the next three Wednesdays, we’ll be doing a special feature with The Killion Group, a dynamic full service company that specializes in brand marketing for authors from idea to execution. Today we’re chatting with Shelly Willmann, a very talented graphic designer at Killion.
LP: Welcome Shelly!
SW: Hi Joanna! It’s a pleasure to meet you! Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to talk about The Killion Group, Inc, and a little about what I do!
LP: Tell us about your background and how you came to work with The Killion Group.
SW: My background in art began when I was a kid. I drew portraits, mostly. By the time I graduated high school I had drawn and sold a lot of portraits, and had developed a growing interest in photography as an art form. I began college on an art scholarship, and graduated with a BA in Photography at Webster University in St. Louis. My professors kept pressing the issue that technology was rapidly changing, and the photography industry was headed into the digital age. They predicted that film would soon be a thing of the past. As a photographer who lived and breathed film, so-to-speak, that was my cue to enrol in a graphic design program where I could manipulate images with my expert photography skills in a digital darkroom — Photoshop! Moving toward graphic design was one of the best decisions I ever made. That is when I met my college instructor, Kim Killion. She and Jeff Appel ran the graphic design program where they taught me everything I needed to know to work professionally in the field.
Soon after I graduated college I began working in the textbook publishing industry as an illustrator and a production artist, and in a media department that produced online textbooks. I tested software, proofread texts, and designed interfaces. During that time I began pursuing a masters degree in Media Literacy, which enhanced my ability to visually communicate through a critical perspective.
In 2012, Kim asked me to come work for her company, The Killion Group, Inc. Of course, I agreed, and have been designing for her ever since.
LP: What is your creative process – that takes you from the a blank “canvas” computer screen to the finished visual realization of a book?
SW: My creative process first involves research and understanding of each client’s specific goals. First, I read through the questionnaire that we give to each client to understand what the client envisions for the project. I visit the author’s websites and social media pages to get an idea about their online presence, which tells me a great deal about who they are, and how they relate to their readers. With that information, I am able to start designing. I search and download the images from stock photo sites, choose appropriate fonts, typographical styles, arrange it all, and then launch into the actual design in Photoshop, and that’s how it essentially comes together on the canvas.
LP: What are the necessary elements that make a really stand-out cover?
SW: In my opinion, the cover’s intended message is the key element that needs to be visually communicated, and accomplishing that involves a complex process. The possibilities are endless, but it basically requires using whatever appropriate design tools necessary to inform the reader in a flash about who the author is, the title, the genre, or for example if it’s romantic, historical, morose, hopeful, action-packed, dark, mysterious, etc…
One of the ways we designers achieve this goal is through a sophisticated use and understanding of typography.
We very carefully select fonts, keeping in mind which ones are best suited
for particular genres, and which ones are best for evoking certain emotions. Fonts often tend to convey feelings, movement or static, and when they are cleverly styled they can make a cover really pop. I could go on and on about the importance of typography, and Kim has taught entire college courses on this very subject. We do value typography as a crucial design element because it can make or break an effective design.
Another very important design element is one that is not seen. It’s that magical way we use design techniques to grab the audience’s attention, leading their eyes around the composition on a path to the main focus areas, hitting on all the important things, and in the right order. When someone is looking around, back and forth all over the cover, and searching for a way to see a cover as a whole, and not knowing where to settle their eyes, then the design didn’t work. An effective cover design should visually connect all the elements together seamlessly, and in a way similar to how information is read in a news article — by seeing the most important information first.
LP: Why are covers so important for a book?
We know the cover is the first thing someone sees when deciding to buy a book. Most people tend to judge a book by it’s cover as the saying goes. (I’m no exception either!!) A poorly designed cover will inadvertently suggest to the reader that the story inside is a reflection of the cover. That’s not an accurate representation, but it’s what people tend to believe. One of my clients told me that the cover I recently designed for her was the reason her book sold so well. Many of her 5-star reviewers said the reason they bought her book was because the attractive cover design caught their attention, which ultimately lead them to read the blurb, and buy the book. That’s exactly what you want to aim for!
LP: Who are some artists/designers that have influenced you in your career?
SW: More than anyone, it was the people I came in contact with in my life who influenced me the most. I give much credit to my teachers and professors who encouraged and supported me along the way. My high school art teacher, Victoria (Vicky) Cummings sent me to high school art workshops at St. Louis University and Washington University, which opened up my mind and world-view. She selected me for these opportunities, and I am so humbled and grateful!
Kim Killion was my graphic design instructor in college who taught me everything about graphic design and she is the reason why I am where I am today! She’s still an influence! I didn’t know where to begin teaching my 8-year old son how to use Photoshop so she told me how to teach him. He’s like a pro now! She is so talented, too. I often download her Photoshop files and turn off the layers one-by-one trying to uncover her creative process! It’s like discovering treasure!
My photography professor, Susan Hacker Stang, studied directly under photographers, Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind at RISD. She explained how light and color affect a photograph—how color is light, and how it bounces around an image and scatters all over the place. During critiques she helped me to see that my photographic style had a cinematic feel running through it. I think that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy designing book covers so much. I apply that dramatic, cinematic look to cover designs when it’s appropriate, making them appear as if they are energetic moving images that have been frozen in time.
Art Silverblatt, my media communications professor who literally wrote the book on Media Literacy, greatly influenced how I use production values when designing covers. I’m always constantly aware of things like showing power or submissiveness through camera angles, the emotional and psychological impact of using certain colors, or considering that the top right hemisphere of an image is usually where the human eye naturally looks first. These are just a few things out of many that I consider. It’s been enlightening!
Lastly, but not least is Ali Cavanaugh who was in 6th grade with me. She loved to draw, too, but after that year I never saw her again. Years later I saw her high school art portfolio displayed at an art gallery. She had mastered color at such a young age, boldly controlling it, and using it with confidence. Seeing her work had pushed me to gain a better understanding of color.
Just a few months ago, I reconnected with her on Facebook! (She does beautiful watercolor portraits. Find her on FB, you will see!) After all these years I didn’t think she’d remember me, but I told her how she influenced me and my art career. To my astonishment, she was so happy to hear from me. She, too, had wondered about me all these years. She reminded me of my drawing of an ear that had pushed her to challenge herself more as an artist. It blesses me to think that two little girls in 6th grade passing through one another’s lives in one semester could inspire each other in such a way!
LP: What are some of YOUR favourite covers that YOU designed?
SW: These are some of my favorite covers. It was hard to decide which ones to single out. I connect with each author on some level when designing their covers, and so they feel like friends to me! Authors put so much effort and time into writing their books, and to finally have that cover is really exciting for both of us. Some authors have told me they are so excited to get the covers that it makes them want to write more books just so they can have another book cover 🙂 That makes my job so fun and rewarding when they enjoy it as much as I do.
I am proud to say that one of my first projects was designing the Killion Group logo 🙂 (see at the top of this post).
LP: Indie publishing has become very popular. Some indie authors are either creating their own covers or they may ask a friend with some design knowledge or technical ability to design one for them – what you do you think about that? And why do you think indie authors should consider a professional designer when it comes to their cover?
SW: Kim Killion is a traditionally published, award-winning author herself who designed her own book covers, but she is also a professional graphic designer with years of experience and expertise to back her up. She knows book covers. An indie author should consider hiring a professional designer who has plenty of experience designing book covers. If designers aren’t familiar with the industry they can run into a long list of unnecessary pitfalls such as titles that are hard to read in thumbnail images, or covers that just don’t convey the intended message as effectively as they should because of poor production values. That takes a special expertise to avoid these issues.
LP: What do you love best about working for The Killion Group?
SW: I love what I do! I’ve always been drawn to the book publishing industry. Working for the Killion Group gives me the opportunity to use every single talent and skill that I have. What an awesome feeling! It’s an honor that I get to help authors tell their stories in a visual sense. I am also a people-person, and enjoy communicating with authors every day. I feel like I am part of their production teams. I really enjoy working with Kim, too. I consult with her everyday about current clients. Skype has been great. We connect and share computer screens online. It’s as if she’s in my living room even though she’s actually a couple states away.
LP: What are you currently working on and what do you have coming down the road?
SW: I’m currently finishing up a cover for a military time travel romance. Down the road I’m looking forward to designing a 3-book series bundle.
LP: Your “day job” is very creative – so how do you spend your downtime?
SW: I usually work while my 3 kids are in school – ages 4, 7, and 8, then I quit working when they come home in the afternoon, but when I get a chance, I read and watch music videos 🙂 I’ve found music videos to be particularly inspiring for designing covers. The music and the moving images sort of imprint on my mind, and I pull from that as a creative resource when designing.
LP: BONUS QUESTION: What is your favourite go-to snack when you’re in “design mode”?
SW: OH! Currently, I have a bag of chile-spiced dried mango from Trader Joe’s that I snack-on sitting next to my computer!
Bob is a longtime resident of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who graduated from the University of New Mexico with a B.S. in physics and an M.S. in materials engineering. He worked for Sandia National Laboratories in the Solid State Physics Research Department before becoming a full time writer. I caught up with Bob at this year’s Bubonicon in Albuquerque.
DLS: As I understand, you started out working in the Solid State Physics Research Department at Sandia National Labs before becoming a writer. How has your background in physics and materials science influenced your writing?
REV: While we call it science fiction, what we enjoy most is actually technology fiction–how science affects our lives (and our characters’ lives). Science moves so fast these days, other than trying to avoid simple mistakes, what I learned back in the days of yore is outdated. Bell’s Inequality, which changed so much, came 15 years after I quit working at Sandia. Nano tech meant ICs then. Hubble and soon Webb space telescopes open the universe to dark matter and energy. I read about new discoveries but mostly I don’t understand them. Instead, I try to put it all into a technology framework and figure out what the effect will be on our lives.
DLS: How did you get started writing? When you started writing for fanzines, did you have an idea that you wanted to be a professional author?
REV: I’m one of the exceptions to the “I always wanted to write” rule. I never did. I wanted to be a nuclear physicist and more or less ended up there, though X-rays and RTGs were as close as I got. I had a few months between quitting Sandia and going to UC Berkeley where I had been accepted to work on a PhD (in ceramic engineering) when I visited my good buddy Geo. Proctor. Geo. was a reporter for the Dallas Morning News, had a couple novels and short stories printed and had always wanted to be a writer. He suggested we coauthor a story. Why not? We did, it sold. (and we never got paid–the magazine folded before publication). Over the years this story sold twice more with the same result. Ironically, the title of the story was “A Killing In the Market.” I enjoyed the process, wrote a fantasy proposal and sent it out. It sold. I was faced with finishing the book or going to Berkeley, so I postponed school by a half year. In that time I sold two more novels and decided this was more fun than designing materials for rocket throat liners. As it turned out, this was a good decision on another front. The prof who would have been my adviser died of cancer 2 years after I would have begun. Such a tragedy easily could have derailed my dissertation, research and career.
DLS: You’ve written under several pseudonyms including Karl Lassiter and Jackson Lowry for westerns, your science fiction has appeared under your own name as well as F.J. Hale and Edward S. Hudson, and I could go on. Authors often build brands around their names. Why have so many pseudonyms? What kind of work do you put into building a brand for each new pseudonym?
REV: The sf pen names came about to keep from competing with myself. One month I had three titles, out, two fantasy and an sf book. Publishers loathe such self-competition. The shift in western pen name from Karl Lassiter to Jackson Lowry came about for the same reason. When I switched publishers, the new one insisted on a different name to keep from supposed promotion of titles from a competing publisher. In a way, this was good. Lassiter did more epic, long form novels while Lowry does short stories, lighter westerns and weird westerns.
DLS: Not only do you have several pseudonyms, but you’ve run the gamut from publishing with New York houses to publishing with small presses to self-publishing. Why work with such a range of publishers?
REV: It took me a while to figure out that I would be terrible doing repetitive assembly line work. After a few minutes, I’d be changing how Part A fitted into Part B. Keeping with one genre (and publisher) is like that. New challenges, new ideas, “what if” always beckons and not necessarily in the same field. I am prolific and varied ideas flow constantly (I am aware of the difference between constant and continuous, alas–the ideas flow constantly). It takes a lot of ink and electrons to keep up.
DLS: Tell us about the Empires of Steam and Rust series. I thought this was an especially innovative approach to self-publishing where several authors write in a single world and help each other market their works. How can we learn more about the books in the series?
REV: Shared worlds aren’t too uncommon, but I decided on a different approach. The basic steampunk framework could be applied in myriad ways–all suggesting myriad authors could contribute. The idea of “holes” into a world consumed by rust gave a world lacking in oxygen and the possibility of invasion from (and into) it. Rather than being the editor for all this, I let trusted authors use the framework to tell stories in their own way and bring their readers to the world. Hopefully that story interests their readers to look at other writers working in the same framework. Each author is responsible for story, editing, publishing, cover, marketing, everything. And the individual author collects 100% of the revenue from their own work. No charge for use of the world. Entries so far have been strong and interesting and varied. I look forward to writing more myself in the world and hope other authors ask if they might join the fun (send me an email to inquire).
DLS: Your career started before we’d heard of things like Twitter and Facebook. How has the world of book marketing changed now that social media has come on the scene? How do you fold social media into your own book marketing campaigns?
REV: I coined the term VIPub a few years ago. Vertically Integrated Publishing. Indie authors have to do it all, think up the idea, write the story, edit it, get a cover, publish and promote. It all rests on the author’s shoulders. This is overwhelming if you try to do whatever is currently hot in social media since it is a moving target and changes in 6 months (or less). In a talk David Morrell said 10% of a writer’s time ought to be spent on promotion. The question arises as to how to allocate that time. From all the possibilities, I say pick three that interest you most. Twitter or Facebook or blogs or Instagram or…whatever else is out there. I have a website I update periodically (www.cenotaphroad.com) and an online store (www.robertevardeman.com). I do post fun stuff on facebook every day and link it with Twitter. I have let blog writing lag since I can’t do it all. One element that is the author’s and no one else’s is a mailing list. Self-selected fans are the greatest. (Sign up for mine via my website or online store) I only send out the n/l when a new book is available or other publishing info comes to light. I don’t like getting inundated so hold down frequency to make each one special (and give special offers of free books, etc)
DLS: What can we look forward to in the coming months from Robert E. Vardeman, or your other identities for that matter?
REV: One novella I am especially excited about is “Jupiter Convergence” in the new anthology Rockets Red Glare. A weird western short story, “The Sixth World”, is forthcoming in the Baen anthology Straight Outta Tombstone. The final volume in a Jackson Lowry weird western trilogy, Punished, is due out in November (#3: Bayou Voodoo joins #1: Undead and #2: Navajo Witches). I am returning to work on an sf book with a different take on first contact and have a major project mapped out set on the moons of Jupiter. And when I get a chance, I have a really strange detective novel in synopsis. Final mention is one of my pen names, Dana Fox. Burning Man Anomaly is joined by a 3-author follow-up Aztec Automaton Anomaly with a 3rd title being sketched out now set in a haunted 1930’s Texas luxury hotel slated for release in 2017.
Ten years ago, Emily Miller went missing when she was only five years old. Everyone in town thought she had either drowned in the lake near her house, or had been kidnapped. Some even whispered that her father, Frank Miller was responsible.
No one suspected the old boathouse behind the Miller property, except Emily’s father. Frank Miller knew what had happened to his little girl. He knew the boathouse had her.
Ten years later, thirteen-year-old George Morgan wanders into the same boathouse and discovers a magical secret. At first he’s thrilled. He reveals his secret to his fifteen-year-old brother Eddie, thinking it will bring them closer together. After all, George and Eddie used to be best friends, before they moved to town, and before Eddie started hanging out with a bunch of older boys—the same boys who make it their mission to bully George on a daily basis. But, when Eddie tells his friends about the boathouse, everything starts to go wrong.
Suddenly the cool, magical secret of the boathouse isn’t a secret anymore, and the mysteries of the past come back to haunt them, putting their lives in great danger.